While Spring Training lingers on for the next three weeks or so, I’ll every now and then be interspersing my usual content with award predictions for the 2014 season. Today marks the first such instance of my forecasting, as I plump for a relative outsider in the National League ROY race.
Boy was 2013 a doozy of a year for exciting rookies joining the Senior Circuit; in terms of hitters there was the indomitable Yasiel Puig, overshadowing key contributors such as Jed Gyorko and Nolan Arenado, whereas on the pitching side of things, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Gerrit Cole all built strong enough cases to claim the award in any other year but for one including the dominant eventual winner – the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez. The 2014 class too, looks like a heated debate waiting to happen; aside from the (currently-blocked) future stars Archie Bradley and Oscar Taveras, names such as Billy Hamilton, Kolten Wong, Kris Bryant, Chris Owings, even Eddie Butler, are waiting in the wings themselves ready to break out. Somewhere in the middle of those two echelons though, is my favorite – the New York Mets’ top prospect, Noah Syndergaard.
Packaged to New York alongside catcher Travis d’Arnaud in exchange for R.A. Dickey prior to the 2013 season, the 6’6 righty simply destroyed the minors in his first year as a member of the Mets organization. Behind – as Baseball Prospectus so aptly put it – “his ungodly K/BB numbers” (he struck out 133 batters in 117.2 innings, walking just 28 along the way), Syndergaard blazed through a season in which he spent time at Single-A, but ultimately finished at Double-A Binghamton. With a “plus-plus fastball that he can throw to a teacup” (H/T to BP again) that regularly flirted with triple digits, a curveball that manager Terry Collins has already dubbed the “hook from hell”, and a potentially plus change up too, the Texas native oozes ace potential – something that has not gone amiss so far this spring.
When Baseball Prospectus wrote “He could probably do a decent Matt Harvey impression at the major-league level right now,” even after his supreme 2013 showing, I was skeptical; the 21 year old hadn’t thrown a single pitch in Triple-A after all. Then came Monday, and his Spring Training debut, after which I quickly changed my mind. In his first Grapefruit League game against the Atlanta Braves, Syndergaard demonstrated exactly why Mets fans are dreaming of a time in the near future in which he, Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler will all simultaneously occupy the same rotation. He pitched two innings of scoreless ball, striking out both Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis with 98mph fastballs, giving up a solitary single to Ryan Doumit, and generally looked at ease against big-league opposition. When Terry Collins said afterwards “he’s on track to be special,” he wasn’t wrong – Syndergaard is going to be great. When the Mets allow him to be so however, is the question crucial to his ROY case.
The timetable for Syndergaard’s arrival will presumably be much akin to the paths taken by Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler to The Show; both were delayed somewhat by the Mets’ willingness to delay the inevitable ticking of their respective service time clocks, and were brought up only once their addition wouldn’t cause further financial damage to a low-payroll squad rocked by the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme scandal. With Jonathon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, and Jenrry Mejia all healthy so far – the likelihood of Syndergaard being taken back north at the end of the month would appear to be slim; he’d instead spend until late June or even July at Triple-A Las Vegas waiting for his Super-2 eligibility to expire, and spend only a half-season in the majors. Typically, that’s not going to be long enough to stake a legitimate ROY case, no matter how good you are.
However, the reports of Mets GM Sandy Alderson’s internal staff meeting might have ramifications that would see their top prospect arrive sooner rather than later; as John Harper of the Daily News pointed out, “if Alderson really thinks this team is capable of winning 90 games, Syndergaard should be up here sometime in May.” With news of his demands now public, Alderson to some extent owes it to Terry Collins (and the fans too for that matter) to provide him with the best roster possible – a prospective 25-man unit which would easily include Syndergaard. And if he is to crack the rotation early (Collins has said it “conceivable” that the 2010 draft pick makes it straight from Spring), Syndergaard’s case for ROY may well be comparable to Fernandez’s 2013 offering in terms of results.
Though it may seem that I’m banking on the aforementioned Taveras and Bradley encountering similar issues in regard to their service clocks in building my case for Syndergaard, I equally believe in the power righty’s potential. Though he may not spend the year in the majors, I’m all-aboard the hype wagon after the rave reviews he has so far drawn from teammates, managers, and opposition alike this Spring. That, and the fact that Mets fans sorely need a Matt Harvey-like feel-good story replacement to root for this year, is why I’m picking Noah Syndergaard as my 2014 National League Rookie of the Year.